Listen: Collett Smart discusses contributing to each other's mental fitness in confined household spaces
How do you navigate the experience of having everyone at home, in a confined space, for most of the day?
As both a psychologist and a teacher I am navigating this terrain, too – trying to work, with my husband at home, as well as my children who are doing a mixture of uni, high school and primary school. I feel like I am constantly changing hats between being a parent, a teacher to my youngest, delivering live uni lectures via Zoom, and consulting online as a psychologist. And you will have your own multiple hats you are wearing, too.
I realise we will all face different challenges and joys in the dynamics of couples, housemates, or parents and children living together so constantly.
To quote Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute, “With coronavirus shutting off our normal escape valves, how do we release the lid and turn off the heat before our relationship has all but melted down?”
I would add to that: how might we also contribute to each others’ mental fitness this week?
We can take some practical steps such as:
- Having an agreed-upon family or household routine, aiming to keep this as stable as possible. And: expect it to go pear-shaped some days.
- If you are spending more time with one another, attempt to give family members as much space as they need. If you can, establish boundaries for ‘my’ space and ‘our’ space.
Keep relationships healthy by:
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- Expecting difficult days and moving on from these.
- Work on looking for what family members or housemates are doing right, not what they’re doing wrong.
- Say “thank you” more times than you growl about what others aren’t doing, even for something as simple as making tea or putting on a load of washing.
Healthy families look for positive traits in others. They work hard to ban criticism and contempt from their vocabulary. As adults, model positive speech, and discourage calling each other unkind names or rolling your eyes and scoffing; practice expressing what you do need, rather than what you resent.
Housemates, families and couples can spend time in the evenings in stress-reducing conversations — not trying to solve anything. Just listen to the highs and lows of each person’s day.
If you are a parent, try some of the following:
- Allow, or even assign, separate activities for your children, to prevent conflict.
- Give the kids freedom to use their devices to socialise, as they will need it to stay connected; this is not the time to overly restrict screen-time. (However, remain vigilant about where they use their devices, and the content they are consuming!)
- Be lenient on your kids who love their gaming; this is also a good source of connection with others and a good distraction. (Again, however, you should stay in charge of what kinds of games they are playing, and where.)
- Ensure your kids are getting sunshine, exercise, reading and playing other games in between their screen-time.
- Expect them to reasonably look after themselves; don’t serve them all day long.
- Set chore routines, or readjust them for this period, so that everyone is pitching in.
- Make times in your week where you focus on activities that create warmth and safety.
- Have some fun times planned in the household: walk, play a board game, eat a meal outside, light a fire.
- Remember your children need touch: if you’re in the same household, hug each other. There are physiological benefits to healthy touch. Find ways to touch family members and children that speak their love language and communicate warmth and affection.
- Find some sources of humour; humour is healthy and normalises anxiety.
To finish where I started, Julie Gotman says ‘we need each other more than ever’, especially those we live with. Let’s cultivate a little more kindness between us.
? Check out the next episode — Schooling At Home
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